"Installing two sets of light rail tracks over 9.5 miles through the heart of town, with the hope of taking some cars off the city’s clogged roads, will cost Austinites something more than the $600 million the city is seeking in the Nov. 4 bond election. ... It will also cost them automobile lanes and hundreds of parking spaces in the city’s core."
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Urban rail’s other costs
Project would cut car lanes, hundreds of parking spaces.
By Ben Wear BWEAR@STATESMAN.COM
Installing two sets of light rail tracks over 9.5 miles through the heart of town, with the hope of taking some cars off the city’s clogged roads, will cost Austinites something more than the $600 million the city is seeking in the Nov. 4 bond election.
It will also cost them automobile lanes and hundreds of parking spaces in the city’s core.
City rail planners, while emphasizing that the project design is still in its infancy, this month gave the American-Statesman a block-by-block look at the proposed electric-powered line. The line, with the exception of proposed bridges at two spots (one of which might instead be a tunnel), will run on city streets or in existing city-owned right of way alongside streets between Highland Mall in North Austin and the intersection of East Riverside and Grove drives in Southeast Austin.
Officials acknowledged the plans could be revised after the election. But under the current thinking, the 26-foot-wide corridor required for northbound and southbound tracks and 20 feet additionally needed for 16 station platforms will force some changes to the transportation landscape. Among them:
Less parking along Trinity
In addition to becoming a two-lane, two-way road with tracks down the middle, Trinity Street would lose most of its parking from the river to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, except for perhaps sporadic “inset” parking. That will cut downtown’s already shrinking inventory of street spaces by about 300. Officials with Project Connect, the joint city of Austin and Capital Metro transit planning effort, say that the project will include four park-and-ride lots with 2,000 spaces but that all of those would be miles from downtown.
Squeeze on Red River
Officials are still weighing whether to reduce the car lanes on Red River Street from Medical Arts Parkway to East 41st Street from four to two or have cars share two of those four lanes with the trains. Either way, the city’s existing right of way is too narrow in spots to accommodate the 70 feet needed, Project Connect manager Kyle Keahey said. And the city would have to purchase considerable right of way to get the 80- to 84-foot-wide corridor necessary to maintain four car lanes and add space for the trains. Another option, officials said, would be to have three car lanes plus the tracks, reversing the direction of one of the car lanes depending on the time of day. “Our biggest challenge is south of 38th Street,” Keahey said.
A tight fit on Riverside Drive
The section between Interstate 35 and South Congress Avenue is confined in one area by a limestone cliff on the south and multifamily housing on the north. Keahey said the intention is to maintain four car lanes and sidewalks plus the tracks, though the city might need to acquire a few feet of right of way. East of Interstate 35, a city study recommends narrowing the road from six lanes to four to make room for the tracks, bike lanes and wider sidewalks, though Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who leaves office at the end of this year, has said he would want to retain all six lanes.
Final decisions about these and other design issues, officials said, will be made in the two to three years after the election — assuming Proposition 1 passes — using what they said was a similar process to the one that produced the rail plan. City rail project lead Scott Gross said that would include a citizens advisory group comparable to one created last year by Leffingwell to vet Project Connect recommendations.
“It’s not like once we have a successful vote it’s all backroom stuff,” Gross said.
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